Of Tithing and Taxes

A tax break is one of the many benefits of a tithing discipline.

Continued from page 1

The devil can quote statistics, of course, and other studies, such as a 2003 article by Wharton School scholars Edward Buckley and Rachel Croson, show that poor people are likely to give a higher percentage of their income than rich people: think of this as the syndrome of the widow's mite, the poor woman in the gospel of Mark who gave her entire savings, two coins, to the Temple (and whose small contribution Jesus deems worth more than the huge contributions rich people gave, because the rich "gave out of their wealth; but she, out of her poverty, put in everything.") 

But most of the studies agree that, on the whole, Americans don't give a very high percentage of their income away: A 2005 Barna study suggested that "the typical individual gave away about 3% of their income." That figure is significantly less than the biblical standard of 10%.

Why do Americans only give away 3% of our income? Because, though 3% might pinch, it doesn't pinch very much.  10% is harder. A commitment to give away 10% of your hard-earned salary requires serious self-sacrifice – it might require buying a smaller home, with a smaller mortgage payment. It might require scaling back vacation plans, passing on that trip to Europe and renting a modest house at the beach instead.  It might require telling your kids "no" more often. It might require a family of two kids and two adults to own only one car, and that car might not be a shiny, new SUV. 


The discipline of giving away money may be a place where our seemingly private spiritual lives meet the world's very public needs. When we give money away, we are not only helping institutions and people. We are also transformed into people of generosity. I am not done being transformed, but every time I write a check to my church, or my public library, or Habitat for Humanity, I know that I am participating in a discipline I badly need–a discipline that will break me of my grasping habits, a discipline that will teach me that I can't sate all my desires at once, a discipline designed to show me that, however fat my Roth IRA gets, my truest security does not lie there. 


Those lessons, those benefits of giving, are far more valuable than the tax break. 

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